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A Case for Environmentally Responsible Coal Production in Montana

An Opinion-Editorial by Governor Judy Martz
July 3, 2001

When I tell the people of Montana we have to send a message that Montana is open for business, I mean it.

Some people say they want better jobs for Montana families, yet proceed to drive job creators out of Montana. Some people say they want more money in Montana classrooms, yet proceed to stop the investment we need to build our tax base.

Sadly, some people just plain want to politicize natural resource issues and stop development cold turkey.

I want a different way. I want to sensibly develop the resources God blessed us with to improve Montanaís economy. In fact, I intend to fund the new economy with the revenues generated from the old economy.

In order to create good paying jobs and to provide the education funding we need to help our students become leaders in the new economy, we must capitalize on our strategic advantages. Thatís why coal production has received so much of my focus since becoming governor six months ago.

Montana has more coal reserves than anywhere in United States; yet Texas, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Wyoming produce more every year than we do. With over 119 billion tons in reserve, or 3000 years worth at current production levels, I say itís time for change.

Thatís why we have been aggressively, yet patiently, working with Secretary Gale Norton to transfer the mineral rights in Otter Creek Tracts 1, 2 and 3 for the 533 million tons of super-compliant coal found there.

Upon transfer of the mineral rights, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation will immediately go to work to put the tracts up for competitive bid. I remain hopeful that the transfer is near.

Weíre working diligently on the development of coal bed methane. The Department of Environmental Quality is completing a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement that will serve as the foundation of responsible, environmentally sensitivity development. At stake is a roughly $4 billion positive impact on Montanaís economy.

Despite a vocal minority of obstructionists who last week filed their ninth lawsuit against coal bed methane production, I intend to move full steam ahead with responsible development.

I sincerely hope these obstructionists are willing to explain to Montana families in reasonable terms why they are so intent on keeping over $250 million out of our schools and up to 736 Montanans out of work with their legal maneuvers, even when there is a clear and convincing case for environmentally sound methane development.

I have also had conversations with interested investors in coal-fired power generation facilities. While most of the potential projects are still in the discussion phase, we stand ready to get clean burning coal facilities into production as soon as possible.

In anticipation of the enormous interest in coal development, we worked with members of the legislature to pass several critical pieces of legislation to promote coal development and energy production.

We now have incentives for lower severance taxes on coal used to generate electricity for Montana consumers. We exempted generation facilities from the Major Facilities Siting Act to reduce the regulatory burden on investors in large coal generation facilities. We implemented a tax holiday for power generation sold in Montana, including coal generation.

Furthermore, with my new office in Washington, I want to work with the Federal government to support initiatives to demonstrate technology leading to attainment of lowest possible emissions from coal plants, in many cases through gasification.

As you can see, in six short months in office we have achieved many small successes on many large fronts. By listening to one another and being open to different perspectives, we can make great things happen.

Our hopes and dreams for higher paying jobs, better schools, lower taxes and stronger families depend on a willingness of every Montanan to work together to capitalize on our abundant resources in an environmentally responsible way.

We can compete. We can produce. And we can grow our economy in the process. Thatís the Montana way. Iím ready to work together. Are you?

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